By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Make-or-break May is upon us.
With nine SEC baseball games remaining, Ole Miss is hoping a strong regular-season finish can put it in position for a deep postseason run.
The Rebels are in action tonight at home against Saint Louis, a 6:30 start, before resuming conference play at Auburn this weekend.
Saint Louis is 30-13 overall and leads the Atlantic 10 with a 12-3 mark.
The Rebels, No. 24 in this week’s Baseball America Top 25, had risen sharply from a 4-8 SEC start with consecutive sweeps against Alabama at home and Tennessee away.
The momentum was broken with a series loss at home against Kentucky. The Rebels are just 5-7 in SEC home games with one series left, May 10-12 against Mississippi State.
“I wouldn’t say we’ve positioned ourselves as well as we want to be, but we have all the confidence in the world,” senior third baseman Andrew Mistone said. “It’s just a matter of us executing what we are trying to do, having shut-down innings and baseball.”
Auburn is 9-25, 7-14 after losing two of three at Missouri over the weekend.
The Rebels are 31-14 overall, 11-10 in conference play. They close the season at No. 4 LSU. The Tigers still hold a commanding lead in the Western Division – 2.5 games on second-place Arkansas – but are 4-4 in their last eight conference games after a 12-1 start.
Ole Miss blew late leads in each of its losses against Kentucky.
“We know we have a lot of talent on this team. We haven’t necessarily lived up to our expectations so far. We know what we’re capable of, and we’re pretty confident that we’re going to finish the season strong,” said freshman infielder Christian Helsel, who has taken on a more prominent role of late.
Players and coaches have not given up on hosting an NCAA tournament regional. Getting one at Swayze Field, however, would most likely require a top-four SEC finish. At May’s arrival the Rebels are No. 7 in the SEC overall standings.
A top-four finish has other benefits. The expanded SEC has a revamped tournament format.
There are 12 teams, but only the top four advance to the old double-elimination format. The other eight must survive a play-in game.
Four teams will be eliminated on opening day, May 21, a Tuesday.
“Regardless of what your record is, if you don’t play well the last three weekends I don’t think you put yourself in position to host and those types of things,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “What’s in front of us is enough to reach a lot of our goals, but we have to play well. We have to play a little better.”